"'Terrible Women': Gender, Platonism, and Religion in Willa Cather's The Professor's House" by Anne Baker investigates the role of Platonic Idealism in The Professor's House and argues that St. Augustine's appropriation of Neoplatonic philosophy provides Cather with a model for reconciling a novelistic world perceived by Cather and her protagonist as deeply and problematically divided. Gender, a profoundly important category in most of Cather's work, functions in this novel to highlight the split nature of Godfrey St. Peter's life and to create a two-tiered world in which virtually all the characters, both major and minor, can be identified as either "masculine" or "feminine," regardless of their biological sex. The professor's despair at the feminized world around him manifests itself in his refusal to leave the attic study where he has done his life's work. Augusta, the family's devoutly Catholic and androgynous sewing woman, climbing and descending the stairs, negotiates the distance between the ideal, masculine world of the professor's study and the impermanent, fallen, feminine world below it. When St. Peter's disgust at the latter threatens his actual existence, it is Augusta, in large part because of her androgynous nature, who proves capable of reconciling the ideal and the real. In doing so, she also functions as a covert example of the potentially transformative power of female artistry. While Cather's sense of the modern world as fragmented and disappointing places her firmly in the company of other Modernist writers such as Woolf, Lawrence, and Eliot, her conjoining of gender, Platonism, and Christianity represents a distinctive contribution, at once conservative and radical, to the conversation on post–World War I society, as well as a unique vision of how that society might be unified. In the interweaving of Classical and Christian traditions, furthermore, Cather finds a model for how restrictive and limiting gender roles might be transcended.


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pp. 252-272
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